I am currently teaching a class on Grief and Loss. I am entirely out of my depth, being a mere historian and not a psychologist or counsellor by any stretch of the imagination but, by golly, it is interesting.
Anticipatory grief. Complicated grief. Prolonged grief. All these hitherto unknown words.
Big J and I are no strangers to grief. Our first little baby, a son, was stillborn nine years ago this Friday. We'd been married but three months when he died. I was six months pregnant, only 23. It was a shock to be thrust into the world of grief. But we survived. And, thankfully, blessedly, had more children.
For whom I am grieving already. Anticipatory grief, although not in the textbook definition. Every time I close my children's bedroom doors after our bedtime routine is complete, I feel a small pang of sadness that their childhood is running out.
Call me crazy. My babes are still children - nearly 8 and nearly 3, but oh, I am already anticipating the grief that will come when they no longer fit in my lap, when they no longer lie in their beds quietly singing 'mama, ma-ma, I want my ma-ma!' When my little son, that chunky, soft, blonde haired elf, no longer rubs his head on my chest and purrs 'I am da baby cat. And you are da mama cat.' My 8 year old, that long legged golden haired mischievous sprite, used to throw her arms around us and say 'You have my heart!' I know she still feels that way but here's the rub. She doesn't say it anymore.
Oh, I do love my babies being small. I am clucky as anything, but I know it's not for another baby ... it's for the babies I already have. My beautiful little daughter, born only 13 months after her first brother was stillborn. The baby who was pronounced 'a perfect baby' by the paediatrician - music to the ears of parents who had fresh, vivid memories of a baby who was most emphatically not beautiful - beautiful to us, his parents, but to the outside world, not at all. The little baby girl with a rosebud mouth who suckled so greedily at my breast, whose big blue eyes were so alert (we later realised that most babies are not that alert! Sign of times to come!). Who would lie in her cot blowing raspberries before bursting into fits of giggles. And then, five years later, the baby I thought I would never have the courage to have ... another perfect baby, fat and round and pink and with a glorious head of streaked golden hair, who protested the minute his mother put him down so consequently spent every waking minute, and most of his sleeping minutes, nestled next to her chest (still a favourite spot, as this picture taken a few weeks ago shows!)
I understand that they have to grow up. I do. I understand that my daughter is now starting to share her heart with others, and that this is a normal part of child development. I delight in seeing my little son's face light up when he sees his beloved family day carer. But still. To no longer have small arms entwined around my neck, to no longer be able to piggy back a small, shrieking-giggling little body ... it's too sad to contemplate, yet I do.
And yet, I will always have this one baby who will never, ever grow up. I will always have this one phantom child who will always remain a baby born still, the size of a loaf of bread, long limbs and bald little head, who lay so still and cool in my arms.
For Friday, happy birthday to my boy.